Like Its Security Measures, Israel’s Nationalism Is a Model to Emulate

Tags: Politics, Nationalism, Leadership

By Einat Wilf

Over the years, I have been asked by students of the world’s top universities, why we in Israel were still insisting on this “passé” idea of a nation-state. My response was that as much as I share their desire to live one day in a John Lennon world with no religion and no countries and all the people living as one, I do get suspicious and somewhat antsy when the Jews are asked to go first.

It turns out that not only are the world’s nations not embracing John Lennon’s vision, but quite the opposite. Whether it’s called populist nationalism, economic nationalism, or the return of the closed society, there is no doubt that this is the rising global tide. From Asia to the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, it is becoming increasingly clear that faced with globalization, immigration, and economic uncertainty, people have a greater need for a specific sense of belonging to something, whether it is a tribe, a people, or a nation. This basic need of all peoples can be expressed in a variety of forms, from the benign to the mean-spirited, but when it is ignored and even denigrated, it is more likely to manifest itself in supremacist and racist ways.

Israel’s Jewish nationalism emerges as reasonably balanced: providing people with a sense of specific belonging to a people and a nation, while addressing ongoing challenges of immigration, integration, and the existence of large minorities who possess, at best, ambivalent attitudes towards Jewish nationalism. Decades of dealing with these enormous challenges under the world’s magnifying glass while being subjected to scathing and often sinister criticism mean that if anything, Israel and the Jewish people are positioned to provide a model of a relatively benign form of nationalism.

It is not that Israel does not exhibit distasteful expressions of nationalism; they are not cause for pride, but they can no longer be considered cause for specific shame. There is nothing in the Jewish need for a sense of tribal and national belonging that makes it inherently better or worse than that need among other peoples, tribes and nations in the world.

Ultimately, if there is anything particularly Israeli or Jewish about the state of Israel, it is that when global phenomena are addressed in Israel, it is with a bit of Jewish kvetch and Israeli improvisation. Those who criticize Israel as if there is something uniquely wrong with the Jews, Israel, and Zionism, simply miss the fact that our only real fault is lousy timing, and that it is all coming, sooner or later, to a theater near you.

That holds Israel to a standard that, because we are Jews, more is to be expected. I reject that because Arabs should have the same expected of them. To do otherwise is double discrimination (against Arabs, and Jews).

Excerpted from article ein

Einat Wilf was chair of the Education Committee and member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the 18th Knesset, has a BA in government and fine arts from Harvard University, an MBA from INSEAD in France and a PhD in political science from the University of Cambridge. Previously, she served as a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a foreign policy advisor to then-vice prime minister Shimon Peres and a strategic consultant with McKinsey & Company. Wilf is the author of three books that explore key issues in Israeli society, including My Israel, Our Generation (BookSurge, 2007).

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Tags: Politics, Nationalism, Leadership